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Branded Sanctuary, Page 31

Joey W. Hill

Page 31


  He begged me to calm down, said hed show me the special rocks hed found, and the tracks of a fox he had in a piece of dried clay. He helped me stop crying, made me shush and then he turned around to get the clay piece. I tried to bolt for the door. He grabbed me of course, and I fell. It unbalanced him, and I kicked him. I shouldnt have been able to hurt him, but I hit him right in the face with the sole of my shoe.

  So brave, Brendan murmured softly into her hair. Such a brave girl. Hed started rocking her, just slightly, making the car rock too.

  I got away, and I ran. Further into the woods, because I was too frightened to remember which way to go, so I just kept running. A nd somewhere along the way I saw the mother deer.

  She pressed her lips together, throat dry. You know, over the years, I thought maybe I made this part up, because I was a kid, and you know how kids sometimes do that to cope. But I guess it doesnt matter. I saw her. She was there, and I followed her, right into this glade she had for her and her twin babies. There was a tiny path into it that only she could see, that I never would have seen for myself. There was just enough room in that little glade for me to slip into it with her. She settled down with the babies curled against her. When I crawled in, pressed myself to one side, she didnt leave. She stared at me, in that way deer do, as if theyre frozen, and the babies did the same. Thats when I heard him crashing through the brush, coming closer.

  I guess I probably stared back at that mother the way she was staring at me, as if I couldnt move. She made this soft noise, and she and the babies became even more still. I realized that was how she protected them, teaching them to hide and not move. So I sat there, so still, when everything in me wanted to run, told me to run. But I knew that mother deer wanted to protect her babies more than anything, and so I did what she told them to do. I stayed there until it was full dark. When at last she got up and slid out with her babies, I followed her again, because I felt safer with her. But then I heard him again and knew he was looking for me.

  So lost in the memory, she jumped when the Ferris wheel began to move. A slow turn that she knew would become a much faster spin, until theyd be flying through the night. She tightened her fingers on Brendans leg, and he put his mouth on her ear, head bent over hers. Its okay. I can hear you.

  She nodded, actually liking how her voice was muted in her own head by the whir of the equipment, the building rush of the wind, as if it was carrying the memory away on the flow of words, as she wanted it to do.

  The deer disappeared, and it went on for hours. I would move through the woods, as quiet as I could, listening for everything, in the full dark. I ran into spider webs, was terrified of what might be crawling on me, but I was more scared of him. There were times I knew he was close. I saw a flashlight beam a few times, and pressed myself to the ground, then I would move again.

  She took a deep breath, telling herself she was almost there, though she knew this was the worst part. Just before dawn, I came to what I thought was a clearing, and it was a road. A road behind a neighborhood. I was so relieved, I started running down it, sobbing, looking at the houses, knowing I was going to be okay. Then he came out of the woods behind me.

  He wasnt making a sound, running faster than I was running, and I knew I wasnt going to make it, that nobody would be looking out their windows or be out in their yards, and he would just drag me into those woods again. I couldnt bear it. I started screaming for my mother, just screaming. I was so scared, I thought it was all in my head, that I wasnt forcing out any noise. But then this lady came out of the back of her house.

  She was letting her dog out before work, and she saw us through the trees. I crashed toward her, and she came running toward me, to help, shouting out for her husband. She said the man turned and ran back into the woods then.

  The tremor she felt wasnt the Ferris wheel. But she told herself it was so long ago. It was okay. She was here. In the arms of a man who would never let something like that happen to her, would never let the monsters get her, no matter hed only known her two days, no matter that she was likely to sabotage their relationship like a human grenade. She pressed her forehead into his chest, then turned her face outward to feel the breeze as they slowed, came up to the top again, giving her a light-jeweled and star filled view of the world.

  A ll those years She shook her head. I know most kids deal with something like that differently, but I went another direction. Like there was something in my head telling me if I could make the world beautiful and full of sunshine, no darkness would ever come to get me again. I remember sitting with the therapist my parents had me see, and it was like, no, Im going to be fine. Id think about the deer and the rabbits, and the flowers, and Id know it was all right. I just didnt think about those dark things. The therapist told my parents that I had basically blocked it out, and might have to deal with the fallout years later, but I knew it was okay. I was fine.

  She lifted her head then, tilted her face so it was mere inches from Brendans. In his eyes, she saw all the things she expected to see. Deep anger that anyone would try to harm her this way, or harm any child. Compassion, kindness, strength. A nd blissful, blissful quiet. She realized then that was what she liked the absolute best about Brendan. There was such a solid tranquility at the center of him, like the fulcrum of this Ferris wheel.

  A llowing the world to turn, but solidly anchored. She wondered if that had anything to do with him being a sexual submissive, or if being a sexual submissive had created it. Chicken or egg. Or if it was just him being Brendan, and all the wonderful things that meant. She rubbed her forehead, gave a little tired laugh.

  So, long story short, Marguerites father said, Im back, and its like he brought his attack and that memory slamming together. Now I cant get the boogeyman out of my closet. I cant sleepand sometimes my leg aches so much, like its this dull reminder all the time. Its stupid, because I do have a wonderful life. Ive had these two terrible moments in time, and they really were just moments, you know? It makes me so mad they can ruin my life despite being so short. It makes me furious.

  She was really shaking now, but then the Ferris wheel revved up again, dropping them out of that top spot, taking them down fast, building up for the final cycle. It whirled faster and faster, the other occupants crying out in nervous excitement and pleasure. It felt like too much, except she was at a still place in the universe, held against Brendans chest.


  She wasnt sure shed heard him correctly, but he tilted up her chin, looked at her close up, his eyes vibrant as he spoke over the rushing wind.

  Yell your lungs out. Here. Tell the universe how pissed off you are. Face outward, and let it out.

  She remembered the exercises he told her he had his students do, teaching them to cry and rage, laugh and use every range of emotion they had, spilling it out into the world. She saw that resolve and encouragement in his bright gaze, coaxing her to keep this moment from breaking her in a way she wasnt ready to handle. Holding onto his hand, she straightened up as they ascended toward the heavens at maximum speed. Taking a deep breath, she put everything into it.

  With the first note, she understood why, in some cultures, the women would shriek like banshees at grief, letting their pain be heard up to the heavens. Maybe they feared it wouldnt be heard otherwise, so much suffering in the world that God wouldnt notice a quieter plea.

  The sound was torn away from her on the wind, so she did it again, and again, closing her eyes so she didnt have to see anyones face on the ground as they sped past the lower level, again and again. She let her rage slash up through the sky, up toward the stars. Her eyes were tearing, but she shoved that reaction back and kept screaming until the wheel slowed and her breaths deepened, steadied. When the car came to a stop about halfway up, she realized they were starting to unload people and load the next group on.

  She had to clear her throat, but his grip stayed tight on her, helping. She was proud
she hadnt let a single tear through, had let the rage lead her cry of fury, even though she was shaking in a way that made her glad she wasnt trying to stand. Im so afraid, Brendan. Its like fifteen years of nightmares that I never had have been saving themselves for me, and every time I close my eyes Im sure theyre going to take me. Like I didnt experience what somebody wanted me to experience, something that I was supposed to handle differently. So Im going to wake back up there in that shack, only this time its going to be both of them. God, I cant stand it. I cant stand being this way, and I dont know what to do. I dont know what to do.

  Damn it, her voice was breaking, and it wasnt like all those countless times before, those small leaks in the dam, or short, painful floods that she could battle back. Her head pounded so violently with the fear and pent-up emotion it was as if her skull might shatter from the force of it, her bones might rattle out of her skin. She couldnt breathe.

  The bar was pulled back. He gathered her up in his arms, holding her close and curled up against him as if she was a child again in truth, and stepped back onto the ground. She didnt know if he spoke to anyone, reassured anyone about her. A ll she cared about was he took her back into that weighted darkness, walking away from the carnival, letting the lights dim behind them. He sat down on one of the many benches scattered over the back lawn for the convenience of guests. He held her as she battled her emotions, the boiling cauldron that threatened to overflow, erupt from her chest.

  It took a long time. Though the fear and anguish didnt go away, she ran out of energy and got numb to it. On that horrible long ago night, in the deer glade, it had been like that a couple times. Shed gotten so exhausted, shed nodded off, chased by uneasiness and dangerous numbness together.

  He was rocking her gently in his arms, and she was clutching his flesh, kneading it, almost like nursing babies shed seen, that reminder of the bond between them and the safe womb theyd had as a haven for far too short a time. She was too tired to be embarrassed, too tired to do anything.

  Chloe. It was the first time hed spoken in a long while, and the soft, masculine timbre was a pure, soothing stroke of guitar strings to her raw heart.

  Yeah? Her voice was sandpaper rough.

  Will you move in with me for awhile?

  His fingers drifted over her hair, her shoulders, making a circular, healing motion. Strong hand, long fingers. His voice was calm, matter of fact, as if his request had nothing to do with her outburst.